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Genetically Engineered Alfalfa Challenge

Alfalfa fields. The USDA's decision allows growers to produce alfalfa without restriction or oversight of any kind.

Alfalfa fields. The USDA's decision allows growers to produce alfalfa without restriction or oversight of any kind.

Photo courtesy of Ken Figlioli.

Case Overview

Earthjustice is representing a diverse coalition of conventional and organic farmers, dairies and agricultural associations, and environmental and consumer groups in challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s decision to deregulate a variety of alfalfa genetically engineered to tolerate exposure to the herbicide glyphosate. Earthjustice, together with the Center for Food Safety, is challenging the deregulation under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Plant Protection Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

The USDA’s decision allows growers to produce alfalfa without restriction or oversight of any kind. This likely will result in substantially increased use of the herbicide glyphosate, which is toxic to most plants and some animals, particularly fish and amphibians. It likely will also result in additional weeds evolving glyphosate resistance, use of more toxic herbicides to kill such weeds, and contamination of organic and conventional alfalfa crops, with associated socioeconomic impacts and loss of farmer and consumer choice.

Known as the “queen of forages,” alfalfa is the key feedstock for the dairy industry. Because alfalfa is pollinated by bees that can fly and cross-pollinate between fields and feral sources many miles apart, the engineered crop will contaminate natural alfalfa varieties. As a result, organic dairies stand to lose their source of organic feed, a requirement for organic dairy, including milk and yogurt products. In addition, the latest USDA data show that less than 10 percent of alfalfa acres are sprayed with any herbicide, and consequently, GE alfalfa will dramatically increase the use of such chemicals across the country, with all of their attendant hazards to wildlife, plants, groundwater and people.

Case Updates

August 4, 2013 | In the News: Individual.com

Pesticide Use Bill Divides Community

A recently proposed Kauai County ordinance strives to safeguard public and environmental health by reigning in the application of harmful pesticides on the island. The bill, which targets large users of restricted and experimental pesticides, would require mandatory disclosures about pesticide use and the presence of GMOs, ban open-air testing of experimental pesticides and GMOs and create pesticide-free buffer zones around sensitive areas.

July 29, 2011 | Blog Post

OMG, GMOs: Food Safety Attorney George Kimbrell

Intro: This is the final part in a series of Q & A's on genetically engineered food, which harm the environment by increasing pesticide use, creating pesticide resistant superweeds and contaminating conventional and organic crops. Earthjustice is challenging the USDA’s decision to allow genetically engineered sugar beets and alfalfa onto the market. To learn more, check out our GMO web feature.

EJ: Are GE foods safe?  

July 15, 2011 | Blog Post

OMG, GMOs: Organic Seed Farmer Frank Morton

(This is the third in a series of Q & A's on genetically engineered food, which harm the environment by increasing pesticide use, creating pesticide resistant superweeds and contaminating conventional and organic crops. Earthjustice is challenging the USDA’s decision to allow genetically engineered sugar beets and alfalfa onto the market. To learn more, check out our GMO web feature.

July 14, 2011 | Blog Post

OMG, GMOs: Pesticide Expert Charles Benbrook

Intro: (This is the second in a series of Q & A's on genetically engineered food, which harm the environment by increasing pesticide use, creating pesticide resistant superweeds and contaminating conventional and organic crops. Earthjustice is challenging the USDA’s decision to allow genetically engineered sugar beets and alfalfa onto the market. To learn more, check out our GMO web feature.)

July 13, 2011 | Blog Post

OMG, GMOs: Earthjustice's Paul Achitoff

Intro: (This is the first in a series of Q & A's on genetically engineered food, which harm the environment by increasing pesticide use, creating pesticide resistant superweeds and contaminating conventional and organic crops. Earthjustice is challenging the USDA’s decision to allow genetically engineered sugar beets and alfalfa onto the market. To learn more, check out our GMO web feature.